Backup survey: UK councils’ downtimes five times longer than average

Backup product supplier Veeam’s freedom of information request finds councils’ average downtime is seven hours and that backup and disaster recovery testing is not done frequently

Nearly one-third of UK councils have suffered unplanned outages in the past 12 months with systems out for around five times the UK average. Those are some of the findings of a survey by backup product supplier Veeam, which questioned 112 UK local authorities via a freedom of information request.

The survey asked them about the types of data they store and where, the data protection technologies they deploy, how they test and update data protection provision, and the challenges to data protection they face.

The survey found just under one-third of councils (32%) have experienced an unplanned outage in the past 12 months. On average, councils faced five unplanned outages in this time, with 10% of those that responded having experienced up to 20.

Most unplanned outages (97%) last less than 24 hours, but the average resulting downtime is just over seven hours (423 minutes). That compares unfavourably with an average for all UK sectors of 79 minutes, according to Veeam’s 2021 data protection report.

Could that be in part the result of spotty backup testing? That is one implication you could draw from the responses Veeam has selected to highlight.

The survey found that 97% of councils questioned conduct tests on their data backup and IT disaster recovery system, but only 15% do so regularly, such as once a month or more frequently.

And while more than half of them (56%) do that more than once a year, 13% test their systems less than once a year, with 9% doing so on an ad-hoc basis and 2% saying it has never been done.

Of the councils that have a formal disaster recovery policy or plan, 68% update it more than once a year. Just over one in five (21%) update the policy less than once a year, on an ad-hoc basis.

All councils questioned back up their data and have a disaster recovery plan, while 91% of councils have a detailed formal disaster recovery policy. Most (75%) update it at least once a year, but 14% only update it on an ad-hoc basis or less than once a year.

All of those could contribute to excessive levels of unplanned downtime. It’s a well-established principle that backup and disaster recovery are worthless unless you know you can recover from them, and testing is the only way to prove that.

Other key findings included council use of on-premise, cloud and hybrid cloud or multicloud. The survey found the vast majority of councils (93%) store their data in their own datacentre, but almost two-thirds (69%) are also using the public cloud. It also found 17% store data across the private and public cloud and on- and off-premise datacentres.

A big chunk of cloud use could involve Microsoft Office 365, which most (89%) councils use. Of those that do, the vast bulk (90%) have more than 250 users. Just under one-third (62%) use a third-party backup product or service for Office 365, meaning the remainder are dependent on in-built data protection in the product, which is limited.

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